Next book

SEMINOLE WARS

ESSAYS OF AMERICAN FLORIDA, 2008-2017

A slightly uneven but admirable set of essays on America’s social dysfunction.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Townsend (Age of Barbarity, 2012) examines the nation’s ongoing cultural battles in this collection of Florida-centric essays.

As should be clear to anyone paying attention to current events, America still has quite a few unsolved problems involving issues of race, gender, poverty, addiction, political corruption, and general aggressiveness. These national issues are perhaps nowhere more visible than in Florida, and this is no recent phenomenon. Townsend, in this collection of essays, takes as his central metaphor the Seminole Wars of the early 19th century, particularly the first, when the United States military destroyed Spanish Florida’s “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff and killed the free black and Native American families who lived there. The intricacies of race, class, gender, and power have only grown more complex since, in both the country as a whole—whose father Townsend sees as being Andrew Jackson rather than George Washington—and Florida, in particular. The essays, written between 2008 and 2017, cover a range of Florida topics, mostly involving race and power. Townsend touches on obvious points of tension in recent years, including problematic practices of college football (including Florida State, whose team is called the Seminoles) and the murder of Trayvon Martin. The author digs deeper, however, introducing lesser-known stories, such as the career of a Polk County sheriff with a pro–National Rifle Association agenda. He also offers personal narratives, interrogating his own culpability in America’s failures. As he discusses such issues as the opioid epidemic, rape culture, and policing policies, Townsend dissects the lies that white America tells itself in the Sunshine State and beyond. As the white, educated descendent of slave owners, Townsend is upfront about the privileged position he occupies in the power structure: “I still benefit, generations later,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “from Prospect Bluff’s obliteration.” He thankfully pulls few punches when it comes to calling out the hypocrisy that underlies Southern white culture. Throughout this book, he manages to do so without becoming preachy, demonstrating a genuine affection for his home state and mixing in enough of his personal passions to make him feel relatable and trustworthy. A typical essay is “The Missing Art of Squandered Whiteness,” an examination of white privilege that becomes a rebuke of mainstream country music’s lack of social critique as well as an exaltation of the alt-country band Drive-By Truckers. Townsend is at his best when he plays critic; his long review of T.D. Allman’s Finding Florida (2013), a popular work of Florida history, is another bright spot. Some of the newsier pieces have less life to them, resembling angry letters to the editor or dashed-off newspaper columns. As a whole, though, the essays make for compelling reading. They feel like dispatches from the front lines of today’s virulent culture wars, in which one man desperately tries to convince his peers to put down their guns and take a look in the mirror.

A slightly uneven but admirable set of essays on America’s social dysfunction.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5305-5557-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Next book

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

Next book

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Close Quickview